Wednesday, October 1, 2014

September No-Spend Challenge: How'd We Do?

If you recall, we decided to make September a no-spend month. Between buying a new (to us) truck (and four new tires for said truck) and working our butts off to pay off my student loans and our Jeep payment, we felt like our budget needed a reset.

Here's where we screwed up spent unplanned money. It is detailed. It is boring. You can feel free to bail right now. I won't respect you less, and in fact, I might respect you more. 

September No-Spend Month Unplanned Spending:

4th: $4 at Subway. We had enough points on our cards to get the rest free, but we still had to pay for Bear's sandwich.

9th: $64 on Girl Scouts stuff. I had already planned on $20 for Bear's yearly registration fee and monthly dues, so that is not part of this total. But I ended up volunteering to be the assistant troop leader, which came with a registration fee, and then Bear and I went to the Girl Scout store and got her new uniform vest and accoutrements, so that was another $49 I simply hadn't thought about. But totally worth it, as we love Scouts and are excited about the new year. I regret nothing.

10th: $175 vet bill. Our doggie had a urinary tract infection and needed more heartworm medicine, too. Worth every penny to keep her healthy. We were planning to take her in for a regular check-up appointment next month, anyway, so that's just something we don't have to do in a few weeks. Again, I regret nothing.

11th: $18.44. Husband went out to lunch with co-workers and I gave him the stink-eye for it. The STINK-EYE, PEOPLE.  I even made it official. I said, "I have to give you the stink-eye for this. You know that, right?" He took it like a man.

And no, he does not normally spend $18 on the rare occasion that he goes out to eat for lunch. Someone bought him lunch a few weeks ago and he picked up their bill this time.

Anyway. This was not going well.

On September 14th, Husband got called in to work and was rammed by a deer on the way. In his brand-new (to us) truck. He was/is totally fine. It's a big truck and he wears his seat belt. But... $500 deductible.

At this point I began to give up on no-spend month. I managed not to cry, and I reminded myself that avoiding unnecessary spending had put us in a position to absorb the unexpected, so in that way we were quite successful. But it was very hard to watch all that money going out of our checking instead of into our savings. Very hard, indeed.

15th: We ate a late breakfast and timed out our lunch poorly and ended up stopping at a Penn Station up near the Cincinnati Nature Center, all full of bubbling hanger and frustration. $31.91. Because heaven forbid anyone but me just get a damned WATER. NOOOOO. Mt. Dews and lemonades for his and her highness!

I am resorting to blaming. It's not a good look.

18th: $17.51 at Wendy's for dinner. You can just hush. Just hush it up right now. I hate cooking a meal after a long day shopping. Also, I got water at Penn Station, so it probably all balances out. Ahem.


19th: $8 for my background check for Girl Scouts. Apparently they prefer that their volunteers not be dangerous criminals, and I support that. You'll be pleased to know I passed. Shut up! I did!

22nd: $4.60 at the Girl Scout store for another book. Not a mandatory book, but it's a bit of a long story, and this post is already hella boring/depressing.

Can my family make it eight friggin' days without spending anything extra? Can we just make it through eight more days?

The answer is, "Probably not." But I wouldn't know because I stopped paying attention in the last stretch. I know I didn't buy anything, but if Husband got lunch or something, I don't remember.

In conclusion, I'm glad we tried again. And this month of all months proved to be a good one for consciously attempting not to spend unnecessarily, because a multitude of unexpected but mandatory expenses cropped up and the money for those was there. We didn't have to go into debt because of an emergency, and we feel good about that. And actually, the $500 won't go out until this week (October!) because the repair place couldn't get Husband's truck in until today. So that's technically October spending.


And that is how I choose to end this post. On a classy note, as always.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

'Mur'ca Chili

I love chili. I will make it any time of year, regardless of how hot it is outside, because I keep my house cool and comfortable. It is never "too hot" for chili.

I've been using the My Fitness Pal app to track my caloric intake and exercise (ha!), so when I made a pot of chili last week, I carefully noted every calorie that went into it. Not because I'm all, "I MUST WATCH EVERY CALORIE!!!", but because if I'm going to track my calories, I must watch every calorie. Make sense? Good.

Anyway. I totaled up the calories in this recipe and it came out to...1776. I shit you not. My chili is a fucking patriot. So here I present to you: 'Mur'ca Chili.

'Mur'ca Chili
8 servings

1 roll 92%-lean Laura’s Lean Beef
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup diced onions (white, red, or yellow. I had yellow on hand)
1 24-oz. jar Local Folks diced tomatoes
2 15-oz. cans Muir Glen tomato sauce
2 15-oz. cans Kroger Simple Truth tri-bean blend
1 packet Brooks Chili Seasoning
2/3 cup water (adjust for your own wateriness preferences)

Brown beef with onions and garlic in skillet over low-medium heat. Drain off grease and set aside.
Add all ingredients to a large pot and simmer over low-medium heat until hot throughout.

Entire pot: 1776 (patriotic!)*
Per one-cup serving: 222 calories**

I ate it all before I remembered to take a photo, so here is a comparable picture that I found on the internet.

It's a tasty chili. I was pleased with it. My favorite chili is still my Gramps', but this was flavorful and low-cal, so it hit the spot. Mama's jeans are getting awfully tight these days, and I am too cheap to buy new ones, so it is more likely that I will simply live with a muffin-top until I drop a few pounds than purchase clothes that fit. It's best for everyone if I watch what I eat for a minute.

*Only if you use exactly that same stuff I used. I can't speak to the caloric content of other brands.
**That is before obligatory crackers and spaghetti noodles. Figure that shit out on your own.

Monday, September 1, 2014

It's high time to "no-spend" again!

If you recall, Husband and I have undertaken two no-spend challenges in the past fifteen months (June 2013 and October 2013). Both were fairly successful, with only a handful of "slip-ups" in each month. I've decided it's high time we do this again, and here's why now is the perfect time:

  • We finally upgraded to smart phones and the plan is far more expensive than our old plan.
  • We hosted a couple of parties this summer, which included food, yard additions, and gifts.
  • We bought a truck almost entirely in cash, which hit our savings pretty hard and almost doubled our car insurance rate, even with multi-car and safe-driver discounts. 
  • We want to pay off the tiny bit of the truck purchase that we financed (so as not to leave us with too little in savings) in six months.
  • We need to reset our spending habits because we want to pay off all my student loans and what's left of our Jeep payments within four years. 

So in the interest of remaining credit card debt-free, we're slowing it down this month. I have all the books (yay, library!) and curriculum items I need for our first month of school, which begins tomorrow. We have our staycation planned for next month.  There are a couple of planned things we need to spend a little on this month, but nothing huge (Bear's Girl Scout camping trip; a Florence Freedom game). The clothes we have will be completely sufficient for a Northern Kentucky September.

So. No non-grocery or unplanned purchases for thirty days. Again. This will help us bulk our savings account back up a bit so we can get moving on that whole "5-10 acres" plan.

I may do some Christmas shopping this month, but I have money set aside for that, as I put some away specifically for Christmas every pay period. So that money is already accounted for and frankly, I need to get cracking. Not to mention that doing some Christmas shopping should appease the "buy spend buy!" voice a little.

My other distraction plans? Finally open the can of paint I bought a month ago and paint Bug's room; submit some writing to literary journals; learn mah youngens; go for a walk a few times per week.

Wanna play? It's actually easier than it sounds, and once you have one under your belt, you kind of look forward to the next one. Try it for a week. It's really quite manageable and definitely beneficial. And if you want, I will hold you accountable. I will be all, "Nooooooo! If you buy that Thing, you FAIL!!!!!" And no one likes to fail. I will be that defeatist voice in your head. It's just the kind of friend I am.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Even more of my favorite things

I've written a couple of times now about the things I love. I'm not quite a minimalist, but I am much closer to that end of the spectrum than the "hoarder" end, and the physical things that I genuinely love are fairly few.

Here are my first and second favorite things posts. And here are a few more:

My custom quilt

My mother-in-law is one of the most talented people I know. A few years ago she started making these fantastic quilts out of washcloths and fleece, and I was thrilled to receive one as a Christmas gift. The colors are exactly what I would have chosen for myself. And the fleece makes it so soft and warm that it's become my go-to blanket for throwing over my legs while I read or watch a movie on my laptop. I will love and use my quilt until it is in literal tatters.

"Nightlife" filter
My new phone

Husband and I took the plunge and got smartphones. We're still waiting for the sting of that first bill (*shudder*), but we're both really happy with our phones. I got the Nokia Lumia 1020 and I am so pleased with it. It takes great photos (and I need all the help I can get...), and it has great editing options right on the phone. I also downloaded the free Photoshop app, though I haven't played with it that much. I'm looking forward to really getting comfortable with all the different settings and options to optimize my generally lackluster photos.

My great-grandmother's China

My beloved, antique, family heirloom China
My Gramps (my mother's father) picked this pattern up for his mother in Japan in the fifties. He had it shipped to the States, which had to have been hella expensive at that time (and on a sailor's salary). She absolutely loved it. She gave it to my grandmother (Gramps' wife) who eventually passed it on to my mom...and now, I have it. I remember seeing it come out only at holidays, as the good China all-too-often does. I've watched in horror as pieces of it shattered. I remember the thrill I got when my mother told me it was eventually going to be mine.

As I've said before, I am not particularly sentimental when it comes to stuff. I attach emotions much more strongly to places than things. But there are a few exceptions, and my family's China is one of them. It's an impossible-to-find pattern (and yes, I have looked far and wide, and there is likely nothing you can suggest that I have not tried, including but not limited to contacting the manufacturer and scouring Ebay for hours upon hours) and I know that the likelihood of my ever being able to replace some of the pieces is pretty slim. While beautiful, it's not a pattern that 2014 Jen would choose in a showroom. Because of our space limitations, I have never been able to store and use it the way I want to. I have plans for bringing it out into the open in our dream house, but for now, it is packed carefully in a tote. It's the very definition of sentimental clutter.

All boxed up. *sigh*

But it is mine, and it was my mother's and her mother's and her mother-in-law's, and someday if she wants it, it will be my daughter's. So the minimalist bloggers can pry it out of my cold, dead hands, and I suggest they come armed because my angry corpse will reanimate and beat them with a beautifully crafted gravy boat.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Little projects I've been working on

Since we concluded our official "school year" in May, I've turned my attention pretty heavily toward getting the house in order for us. By "order", I do not mean clean. No, no, no. Hurricane Bear and Typhoon Bug live here, after all. My philosophy on cleaning with young kids in the house is simple: If it can draw bugs, or make someone sick or naked, it should be dealt with. So I focus on those things and get to the other stuff when I damn well feel like it have time.

I digress. All the time. Back on topic: projects! I have done some sewing and painting and more painting and I have another sewing project in line, plus some fun ideas for making the backyard more appealing to the kids.

First, I mentioned before that we bought a free-standing pantry to help with some of the kitchen overflow. It was this boring, cheap, particle board number from Lowe's or Home Depot or something.

This was legitimately the least-blurry shot I got with my increasingly worthless point-and-shoot.

I decided to spruce it up:

Chalkboard paint! I think it's a requirement in all homeschooling homes.

I got the idea to do this with the measuring cups on Pinterest. I LOVE it.

My Bug, doing the drawing of the things with the chalks.

I'm very happy with how it turned out. I put the bulletin board up because I wanted a place to display the photos our loved ones often give us of their adorable children, but I do not really do albums or photo shelves and always find that those pictures end up in paper piles on the counter. The bulletin board gives me a no-thinking-required place to stick them and enjoy them. Once I find more of them in the paper piles, that is...

I also painted the entire main floor of the house in Behr's Natural Gray. I love it because it is an actual GRAY. It's not greige. It's not bluish or greenish. It is, as the name implies, a very natural gray. I love how it looks. It's calming and neutral and I very well may use it again when we move in a few years. 

Okay. Sewing. I made some toss pillows, WITH ZIPPERS, for the living room. This was my first experience with zippers since I took a costuming class in college and had an instructor right there to help me the entire time. I did it all by myself. With a tutorial. Ahem. But I did it and they look AWESOME.

I made those! By myself! Yay, projects with straight lines!

I also painted my dining chairs black because 1.) they looked like crap, all dinged up; 2.) black looks better with our gray, green, and blue color scheme. I am going to make cushions for them, probably out of the green fabric I used for the toss pillow on the right, because they are very uncomfortable chairs. I'll post a picture of the dining table and stuff when that's all done. Try to contain your excitement.

And then there's the back yard. It's a great space, all fenced-in, and with a nice awning over the back porch. But we needed to add some things to make it more fun for the kiddos, so here's what I've got so far:

Normally I'd spread things out a bit more, but Husband has to mow again soon, and it's easier to stick everything on the patio if it's closer to the house.

We've had this set for years, but Husband scrubbed it down and fixed all the terrifyingly rickety chairs so we can eke a few more years out of it. I'm hoping to find a good deal on an outdoor rug, too.

The thing I wanted in my back yard more than anything else in the world when I was a kid. But this one is, um, for my children. I have absolutely NOT done a handstand or a full turn on it. Ahem.

He gets a little nervous.

I saw something like this on Pinterest, obviously, and had to make one. I do have a pre-schooler, after all.

And another one of Bug, because Bear was reading and in her pajamas and didn't want to participate.

I also want to get them a mini trampoline. We used to have one, but Ella ate it because she is Ella.

Oh! And apropos of nothing, I won a poetry contest.

               It's really me. Not a different Jennifer. The poem itself will be at one of our county library branches for people to read. Pretty cool!

Our county fair has a creative writing contest with various categories each year. I decided to enter a poem and I won! Now I make sure to constantly refer to myself as "an award-winning poet". "Well, as an award-winning poet, I think we should have Subway for dinner." I think this is charming and delightful and not at all obnoxious. Ahem. I also had my first poem published in a literary magazine a few months ago, and I have a few more out right now. It's been nice to do some actual writing for myself again.

There is always a ton going on in our lives, which I love. Selling the house finally freed us up to move on. Next goal: buy Husband a truck. In cash.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Husband's big week

Courtesy of Jennifer Bramley
Husband had a rather significant few days the week before last. On Tuesday night he received an award from his college (Outstanding Apprentice) and the on Thursday night, he graduated!

We're all so incredibly proud of him. For a long time he didn't really see college as something that was in the cards for him. He'd never enjoyed school, and he already had a good, steady job that supported his family. Pursuing a degree was more of a "that'd be cool but it's not going to happen" than a "someday I will do that" in his mind.

In fall of 2008, he applied for an apprenticeship within his company. It was competitive, but ultimately he was their top pick and he got to choose which path he wanted to take. He decided to take the electrical apprenticeship because, and I shit you not, he said it "won't be as dirty as the mechanical position."

He was wrong, but that's another blog post, and it involves laundry.

The catch to the opportunity was a nearly $4-per-hour pay cut off the bat. Yeah, you read that right. He would receive an evaluation and raise every six months for four years until he was making quite a bit more than his current rate of pay, but at the time I was in school, we had debt, and we were pretty much paycheck-to-paycheck already.

So we talked it out and decided that a few years of discomfort and belt-tightening and, frankly, FEAR, would be worth it in the end for him to receive his college education, paid in full. We refinanced our house, I continued working at my part time job and going to school, and we managed to make our schedules work while Bear was in school.

It was really, really hard. There were several semesters where our credit cards and my student loans kept us afloat. We never missed payments or got into trouble or anything, but money was incredibly tight. And we were dumb, so we still did dumb things sometimes with our money. Things I'd never do now, even though we have more. But I digress.

After a few years in the program, Husband's wages surpassed his pre-apprenticeship rate and things started coming together. We decided to have our Bug, I finished school, we double timed on the debt payoff efforts, and we decided to start working toward our goal of building our dream house.

And that's where this blog began, basically.

So now, after five years in school (because he could only go part time and his school hours counted toward his forty-hour work week), Husband is the proud recipient of his associate of applied science degree as an industrial electrician.

Bear and Bug got to attend both of their parents' college graduations, although Bug was still working on the whole "developing" thing when I walked. Our family could not be prouder of our guy, and we're so happy to put another nail in this custom-built life we're building.

Courtesy of Jennifer Bramley

Monday, May 12, 2014

Little mind games that work for me

I believe in mind over matter. Perhaps not in every situation, of course, as it seems no matter how hard I focus, my coffee simply will not brew, pour, and transport itself to me.

I mean, I'll keep at it, but I think that might be one of the exceptions to the rule.

However. Ahem. Other segues.

I believe that I can generally conjure willpower, courage, trust, motivation...whatever virtue I need, by deciding to. Not always and in every situation, but in many of them, anyway. I do this by playing mind games with myself, because I am a little bit crazy. And also awesome. I use my mind games and tricks to manipulate myself into doing the things I want myself to do but myself does not want to do because myself can be an asshole sometimes, and also lazy.

Here are a few of the ways I make myself do the stuff:

I become indignant

I have always liked to buy things, and am horribly susceptible to advertising. If I see a Wendy's commercial, I want that juicy cheeseburger. I am an advertiser's dream.

Or was.

Over the past few years, I've trained myself to believe that all advertising is evil and conspiratorial (and am I really that far off?). By doing so, I have also learned to rejoice in my ability to "stick it to the man" every time I say no to an impulse purchase. It feels like a victory over The Machine and the naturally rebellious part of my brain absolutely revels in that feeling. I will literally say out loud, "Suck it, Wrigley's! Your bright packaging and promises of fresh breath and long-lasting flavor don't mean SHIT!"

People stare. 

I tell myself I don't have to do it

When I began the excruciating process of packing for our move, and then unpacking after our move (with Husband working MASS hours and going to school), I knew I'd need a plan to keep the overwhelm at bay. So every day I added "pack one box" or "unpack one box" to my to-do list. And it was totally, totally fine if I only packed or unpacked that one box. If I did that, I got to cross it off my list and be finished.

But come on, y'all. You know how it goes when you get on a roll.

So I'd pack, or unpack, one box. And the motivation would kick in and I'd do two to four every single day, without fail. I'm not saying I never got overwhelmed or felt like it would never end. But it got done, and in a timely manner, and there was no mad dash or panic. I just know myself well enough to know that when that motivation bug hits, I will jump on it. All I have to do is swallow the bug.

Best. Metaphor. EVER. Moving on...

I tell myself to "go for it" when I am already in "mid-go"

I have discovered in my tumbling endeavors that sometimes it is very scary to jump backward toward one's head. Or forward toward one's head. Because sometimes said head contacts the floor/mat/trampoline and it is most unpleasant. This leads to two big problems for someone who actually rather LIKES to do things that require head-diving: blocks and balking.

Blocks are a mental thing which prevent us from going for things and can happen for various reasons. Balking is going for the thing and bailing out mid-thing. You with me? Anyway, I have experience with both.

Blocks are harder to get over, but I have discovered that I can prevent myself from balking nine times out of ten by mentally saying, "I'm doing it!" or, "I'm going for it!" halfway through the skill/thing. For example, if I do a roundoff-back-handspring, I mentally say, "I'm going for it!" as I round-off. It's totally mental. I can do the thing easily, physically. But I need my little routine, and for me it has to be a routine I can repeat anywhere. If it relied on location or something like that, I'd never be able to put the skill/thing in any different conditions.

I ask my stuff what it's done for me lately

When it comes to uncluttering and getting rid of things, I can be pretty ruthless. But everyone gets stuck sometimes, you know? A lot of organization blogs and articles tell us to ask ourselves when we last used an item, or if we truly love/use/need it.

I ask it to defend itself.

It's the same thing, only I put the onus on the stuff. Of course, the stuff doesn't talk (I'm not THAT crazy yet), but in my head I imagine how my questionable possessions might argue for their place in my home. If their argument sucks (and it often does), out they go. But if it's something like my Crock Pot, which is all, "Um, bitch, I made you some delicious pork chops with gravy two days ago while you ran errands and played Words with Friends, and then I got clean in the dishwasher. #handwashingsucks #SUCKIT," then obviously it gets to stay.

But the paraffin spa that I HAD to have ten years ago, which Husband bought for me and I used exactly ONCE, sounds more like, "Well, you know, funny you should ask. Remember that time I covered your hands in hot wax and made them ever-so-slightly softer, and it was totally fine and not inconvenient that you couldn't use your hands for half an hour, and then it was no big deal to wait over an hour for me to cool down and you really enjoyed all the wax-scraping and clean-up? Good times! I am totally worth the 18" X 12" X 12" space I take up in the bottom of the linen closet!"

Things did not end well for the paraffin spa.

So okay, now you've seen a smidgen of my brand of crazy, but since I explained it to you it makes total sense, right? Feel free to borrow my mind games and adapt them to your own purposes. They are very effective and make me get things done and not be a big coward and/or hoarder. You're welcome.